Constitutional Fundamentalism, Minus Some of the Fundamentals

Paul Harvey

My piece at Religion Dispatches, posted yesterday, reflects on the meaning of "original intent" after the reading of the Constitution in the House of Representatives Thursday. What does it mean to treat the Constitution as "sacred," but skip over the parts in which the original intent of an entirely different era leaves us uncomfortable, not unlike reading passages from any number of other sacred scriptures? Read it here. A short taste here:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

As the 112th Congress convened on Thursday, January 6, 2011, the first order of business was a religious ritual designed to underscore the import of a historic transition of power: a reading of the US Constitution. Or rather, a reading of it without some of its ickier original parts, such as the original fugitive slave provision quoted above. It was constitutional fundamentalism without some of the fundamentals.

Julie Ingersoll's post, also at Religion Dispatches, reflects in a similar fashion on the reading. John Fea weighs in here.


John Fea said…
This is a great piece, Paul! Thanks!
Christopher said…
Nicely done, Paul. Oddly enough, Glenn Beck also called out Congress for not reading the Constitution in its original entirety. Not so oddly, though, his frustration was because he sees things such as the 3/5 compromise as the Founders' inspired way of making sure slavery would end.

Glenn and Pat explained that the “three-fifths” compromise wasn’t an evil thing, but it was an effort by the Founders to eventually end slavery.

Pat explained, “It’s three-fifths in counting. It’s three-fifths in a census. It wasn’t assigning a word to a soul or a human being. It was so that they could limit the population of the south and, thus, limit the representation and one day get rid of slavery.”

Glenn explained that the slave owners wanted slaves to be counted as full people in the census, but the Founders were saying, “If they’re people, how can you enslave them?”